Northwest Airlines

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Northwest Airlines Template:Airline codes is an airline headquartered in Eagan, Minnesota, with three major hubs in the United States: Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport, and Memphis International Airport. Northwest also operates flights from a hub in Asia from Narita International Airport near Tokyo, and also operates transatlantic and Asian flights in cooperation with partner KLM from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

Northwest is currently the world's fourth largest airline in terms of RPK (revenue-passenger-kilometers). In addition to operating one of the largest domestic route networks in the U.S., Northwest carries more passengers across the Pacific (5.1 million in 2004) than any other U.S. carrier, and carries more air cargo than any other passenger airline. Northwest is the U.S. carrier with the longest continuous name identification. The airline, along with its parent company and subsidiaries, is currently operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Northwest Airlines' regional flights are operated under the name Northwest Airlink by Mesaba Airlines and Pinnacle Airlines . Its frequent flyer program is called WorldPerks.


The Curtiss Oriole, one of two biplanes Northwest used initially to haul U.S. mail.

Northwest Airlines was founded in 1926 by Col. Lewis Brittin, under the name Northwest Airways. Like other early airlines, Northwest's focus was not in hauling passengers, but in flying mail for the U.S. Post Office Department.[[1] The fledgling airline established a mail route between Minneapolis, Minnesota and Chicago, Illinois, using open cockpit biplanes such as the Curtiss Oriole.

Northwest did not begin flying passengers until 1927. In 1928, the airline started its first international route with service to Winnipeg, Canada. The airline's operations were expanded to smaller cities in the region by the end of the decade. In 1931 Northwest sponsored Charles and Anne Lindbergh on a pioneering flight to Japan, scouting what would become known as the Northwest Airlines Great Circle route, and proving that flying through Alaska could save as much as 2,000 miles on a New York-Tokyo route. In 1933, Northwest was designated to fly the Northern Transcontinental Route from New York City to Seattle, Washington; it adopted the name Northwest Airlines the following year. Northwest stock began to be publicly traded in 1941.

During World War II, Northwest joined the war effort by flying military equipment and personnel from the continental United States to Alaska. During this time, Northwest began painting their aircraft tails red, as a visual aid in the often harsh weather conditions. This experience with the severe northern climate led the government to designate Northwest as the United States' main North Pacific carrier following the war.

1947 ad for first Asia flights

On 15 July 1947, Northwest became the first airline to fly a commercial passenger flight from the U.S. to Japan, using The Manila, a Douglas DC-4 aircraft, by way of Anchorage. From Tokyo, the flight continued to Seoul, Shanghai, and Manila. Taipei replaced Shanghai after the revolution of 1949. With its new routes, the airline rebranded itself as Northwest Orient Airlines, although the legal name of the company remained Northwest Airlines.

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The Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, 1949 promotion

On 1 August 1949, Northwest took delivery of its first double-deck Boeing 377 Stratocruisers, which allowed the airline to establish higher service standards and reduce flight time. They were used to fly the Tokyo route nonstop from Seattle, and from Chicago, via Anchorage. In 1951, Northwest helped establish Japan Airlines by leasing its aircraft and crew to the new company. In 1952, under the U.S.-Japan bilateral aviation treaty, Northwest and Pan American were the two U.S. flag carriers awarded rights to fly not only from the U.S. to Japan, but to pick up and carry passengers beyond Japan. Northwest remains the largest non-Japanese carrier at Tokyo's Narita Airport, with flights to 15 cities in Asia including Seoul, Manila, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Bangkok and Singapore.

Northwest meteorologists pioneered the first clear-air turbulence forecasting system in 1957, important since the airline flew many northern routes over turbulence-prone mountain areas. Northwest remains a leader in turbulence prediction, providing TPAWS (turbulence prediction and warning services) to other airlines. [2]

On 1 June 1959, Northwest took delivery of its first turboprop jet aircraft, the Lockheed L-188 Electra. On 8 July 1960, Northwest put the Douglas DC-8 into service, offering the shortest flight times on routes to Asia. In August 1960, Northwest retired the last Boeing 377 Stratocruisers. The airline took delivery of the Boeing 720B in 1961, and in 1963, with the new Boeing 707, and the retirement of the last propeller aircraft, Northwest became the first U.S. airline with an all-turbofan jet fleet. Northwest began operating the Boeing 727-151 in 1964.

System map, February 1972

Northwest took delivery of its first Boeing 747-151 aircraft in 1970. The airline began retiring the older Boeing 707s, and using the newer 707s on high-density domestic routes, where the 727 lacked sufficient capacity.

June 1986, prior to Republic Airlines merger

After airline deregulation, Northwest began nonstop flights to other Asian cities, returned to China in 1984 after a 34 year hiatus, and gradually strengthened its presence in the southern United States. It also began flying to Britain, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia. On 1 October 1986, Northwest purchased its competitor, Minneapolis-St. Paul-based Republic Airlines and adopted its three-hub network centered around Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit, and Memphis. Northwest dropped the word Orient from its brand name after the merger. The legal name has been Northwest Airlines since 1934.

NW/KL service mark, 1993-2003

Northwest was purchased in a 1989 leveraged buyout by an investment group headed by Al Checchi and Gary Wilson, KLM, and many others. To pay off the debt incurred in their takeover, the new management sold many of the airline's aircraft to leasing companies, and sold property around the world, including land in central Tokyo. The expense of the buyout was so great that in 1993, following several years of losses due to industry overcapacity and a traffic downtown following the Gulf War, Northwest threatened bankruptcy unless its employee groups agreed to three years of wage cuts. After signing the concessionary agreements, Northwest made its first profit since 1989, and top management awarded themselves with bonuses.

Also in 1993, Northwest began its strategic alliance with KLM, which was the largest airline partnership ever conceived at the time. This partnership eventually became the Wings Alliance. However, the alliance never grew beyond the two airlines, and is now obsolete as both are part of SkyTeam. Northwest gradually pulled out of its minor European destinations and focused its attention on the domestic and Asian markets once more. On 1 May 1996 Northwest began the first nonstop service from the U.S. to China, on the Detroit-Beijing route. Nonstop Detroit-Shanghai service followed in April 2000.

NWA logo, 1993-2003

Northwest was the first large U.S. airline to offer passengers Internet check-in, in December 2000. The airline had offered airport self-service check-in since 1997. In the early 2000's, Northwest Airlines acquired a reputation of refusing to adopt industry-wide fare increases that had been accepted by other United States airlines. This changed in March 2005, when Northwest adopted fare hikes in response to rising oil prices.

File:SkyTeam logo.jpg
NW joined SkyTeam in 2004

On September 15, 2004, Northwest, along with partners KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Continental Airlines joined the SkyTeam Alliance, a partnership of nine airlines from around the world.

Northwest has had an often uneasy relationship with its labor groups. In 1998 Northwest walked away from the bargaining table, locked out its pilots, represented by ALPA, and shut down the airline for more than two weeks. The airline sustained heavy losses as a result, and ended 1998 in the red, after being profitable since 1993. On August 20, 2005, following months of negotiations, an impasse declared by the NMB and a 30-day cooling off period, the over 4,750 Northwest aircraft mechanics, janitors, and aircraft cleaners represented by AMFA, went on strike against the company. After numerous negotiation sessions, no agreement was reached, and the company began hiring permanent replacements for the striking workers. In mid-October, after permanently hiring about 500 non-union workers, Northwest made a final offer to the union. The offer would have saved about 500 union jobs and offer four weeks of severance pay to terminated employees. This offer was significantly worse than the original declined by the union, which would have saved over 2,000 jobs and offered 16 weeks of severance pay. On 21 October 2005, AMFA announced that it would not allow its members to vote on the offer, citing that parts of the contract would violate the union's committment to its members. After no vote took place, Northwest resumed hiring permanent replacements for the remaining positions.

For the first time in its 79-year history, Northwest filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York on 14 September 2005. With Northwest's filing, four of the six largest U.S. carriers were operating under bankruptcy protection. Northwest joined Delta Air Lines (which filed just minutes before), United Airlines, and US Airways in bankruptcy. US Airways has since emerged from bankruptcy protection. Northwest common stock shares dropped more than 50% for the second time in three days following the news. In the following weeks, Northwest Airlink carriers Mesaba Airlines and Pinnacle Airlines both announced that Northwest had missed payments to them for their Airlink flying. Northwest also announced plans to shrink its Airlink fleet by over 45 aircraft. Mesaba Aviation filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy on October 13, 2005.

Incidents and Accidents

  • On 19 June 2005 a Northwest DC-10-30 en route from Mumbai (Bombay) to Amsterdam diverted to Mehrabad Airport in Tehran Iran. A warning light (later proven to be a false alarm) indicated there was a possible fire in the cargo hold. Several hours were spent negotiating the purchase of fuel, due to the lack of precedent; this was the first US airliner to land in Iran since the 1979 revolution.


Northwest currently has one of the oldest fleets among all major air carriers, with an average airframe age of 18.3 years across the fleet. This is due, in part, to a large fleet of Douglas DC-9s dating from the 1970s and -80s which were acquired via the Republic Airlines merger in 1986. In an attempt to extend their useful lives, Northwest replaced the aging interiors of the DC-9 fleet in the mid-1990s with all-new materials similar to those in the cabin of the Boeing 717. DC-9 aircraft are being retired at a rate of about 30 a year as they reach their maximum flight ratings [6]. Exactly how the airline will replace them in the long run is still an open question, but at present Northwest seems to be moving towards a solution using CRJs operated by its Northwest Airlink subsidiaries [7]. Excluding its DC-9 fleet, the airline's average fleet age is 9.9 years [8]. Northwest was for over three decades a large Boeing 727 operator. As the aircraft aged, the 727 fleet was slowly replaced throughout the 1990s with Airbus A319 and Airbus A320 aircraft. The final 727 aircraft were retired in 2003 after the industry downturn caused by the September 11 terrorist attacks. Since the 1960's, Northwest has operated one of the world's largest Boeing 747 fleets, flying an all-B747 fleet to and within Asia from the 1970s through the early 2000s. Since then, older 747-100 and 747-200 series aircraft have been retired and replaced with the Airbus A330 and Boeing 747-400. In addition to the DC-9, Northwest also currently operates older McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and Boeing 747-200 aircraft.

Northwest is in the midst of a major long-haul fleet renewal program. As part of this program, Northwest introduced a simplified new paint scheme and logo in April 2003. The airline is currently replacing its DC-10 and Boeing 747-200 aircraft with the Airbus A330. The first Airbus 330-323, used on Europe flights, arrived on August 6, 2003. In addition, the new Boeing 787 will arrive in 2008 for long-haul route growth.

Northwest has been involved in the launch of numerous aircraft. In 1989, the airline was the primary launch customer for the Boeing 747-400. Northwest was also the United States launch customer for the Airbus A320 with N301US, an A320-211 manufactured on 6 June 1989. In 2005, Northwest announced plans to be the North American launch customer for the Boeing 787, which will be delivered in 2008.

All of Northwest's aircraft have a two-class configuration: coach and first class on domestic routes; coach and World Business Class on international routes. Northwest's A330s and 747-451s have the first lie-flat business class seats of any U.S. airline. Northwest's World Business Class is comparable to other airlines' First Class products. Airbus A330 aircraft have a personal video monitor for every seat, and AC power outlets for many seats. For information on the fleet of Northwest's Airlink partners, see Mesaba Airlines or Pinnacle Airlines.

Type Total Passengers
Routes (as of September 2005) Notes
Boeing 747-451 16 403 (65/338) Los Angeles-Tokyo-Hong Kong, Detroit-Tokyo-Shanghai, Minneapolis-Tokyo-Manila, Detroit-Nagoya-Manila, Detroit-Osaka-Taipei, Honolulu-Tokyo Launch customer of aircraft and started service in 1989; with new World Business Class; service from New York to Tokyo suspended due to high fuel costs
Boeing 747-251 6 353 (67/286) US-Japan
430 (30/400) Pacific islands
Honolulu-Tokyo, Guam-Tokyo
Airbus A330-323 8 298 (34/264) Detroit-Frankfurt, Detroit-Paris, Detroit-Amsterdam, Boston-Amsterdam With new World Business Class; audio/video on demand on every seat
Airbus A330-223 7 243 (32/211) Seattle-Tokyo-Seoul, Tokyo-Beijing, Portland-Tokyo-Singapore, San Francisco-Tokyo-Bangkok With new World Business Class; audio/video on demand on every seat
McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 22 273 (26/247) Minneapolis-Amsterdam-Mumbai, Detroit-London, Honolulu-Osaka, Seattle-Amsterdam, Minneapolis-Honolulu, Minneapolis-London
Boeing 757-351 16 224 (24/200) domestic routes, west coast to Hawaii
Boeing 757-251 56 180 (22/158)
or 184 (22/162) US
182 (20/162) int'l
Saipan-Nagoya-Tokyo, Tokyo-Busan, Tokyo-Guangzhou; domestic routes
Airbus A320-211 & -212 78 148 (16/132) domestic routes
Airbus A319-114 70 124 (16/108) domestic routes
Douglas DC-9-51 35 125 (16/109) domestic routes
Douglas DC-9-41 12 110 (16/94) domestic routes
Douglas DC-9-31 & -32 103 100 (16/84) domestic routes
Boeing 787-851 18 orders,
50 options
221 (36/185) Entry into service: 2008 Will be first North American operator of the 787, was the second U.S. major carrier to order the 787; third U.S. carrier (behind Continental Airlines and Primaris Airlines); with new World Business Class

Northwest also operates thirteen Boeing 747-251SF freighters.

  • Note in table with the asterisk (*): World Business Class on international flights; First Class is on domestic flights only.


See article: Northwest Airlines destinations

Frequent flyer program

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Artist's rendering of a Northwest Airlines Boeing 787. The aircraft is scheduled to enter into service in 2008.

WorldPerks is Northwest Airlines' frequent flyer program, offering regular travelers the ability to obtain free tickets, First Class upgrades on flights, discounted membership for its airport lounges (WorldClubs), or other types of rewards. Customers accumulate miles from actual flight segments they fly or through Northwest's partners, such as car rental companies, hotels, credit cards, and other vendors.

In addition to its Northwest Airlink and SkyTeam Alliance partnerships, Northwest offers code sharing and frequent flyer partnerships with other airlines, including the following:


External links

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